November 9, 2016 2:33 pm
Did you know that people who are bilingual and able to play an instrument are less likely to suffer from dementia? Have you ever thought that learning a new language is very similar to learning how to play a musical instrument? But how does one influence the other? In several ways, music and languages are connected and can be compared.
When someone starts studying music or learning how to play a musical instrument, it all starts just like the language acquisition process, with the very basics: first experimenting with different sounds -regarded as notes- and then combining these different notes into chords. Doesn’t it sound like when you start learning words, forming syntagms, and then sentences making a logical composition?
Once you start practising and learning the correct combination of chords/syntagms, you will slightly move beyond the grating screeches and babbling to reproduce beautiful melodies and composing coherent forms of expression. After this stage, and always enjoying the learning and improving journey, you will have acquired a new skill. Simply said, it seems quite straightforward. But do you really know what is going on in your brain while carrying out these activities?
It may not be surprising to find out that linguistic and musical processing have close cognitive building blocks. Indeed, there is recent research detailing the interplay between these two aptitudes. It is said that brain organization is modulated by practice, and so is musical and linguistic training. And what is more, “playing music regularly may also have a modulatory effect on the brain’s linguistic organisation and alter hemispheric functioning” (Milanov and Tervaniemi, 2011).
According to two other Stanford studies, people with musical experience normally find it easier to distinguish small differences in word syllables and sounds, something that is essential in language learning. As a result, that discovery also entails significant effects for children struggling with language and reading ability. But actually, it may never be too late to make your brain work harder, since playing music and studying a second language as an adult also helps to avoid memory loss, besides being an excellent exercise to prevent a decline in verbal and speech perception skills, often cuased by diseases such as Alzheimer and dementia.
As stated by leading researchers of Oxford University, our perception of speech as a form of communication derives from the original human understanding of music, and this reveals why the music and language neural networks overlap. In both learning processes, there is a required connection between the two hemispheres of the brain, as well as a broad range of abilities such as pattern recognition, planning, problem-solving, multitasking and prioritising. These skills are very much improved, and it is indeed a complete brain workout enhancing the brain plasticity and the cognitive powers of the mind.
It is well-known that there is a dominant side of every person’s brain, and this why people with a stronger right side -the creative one- are usually better at artistic activities. But still, it will always be a good idea for everyone to make the brain work better, especially if you want to avoid dementia. But to do this, you will need patience, determination and perseverance, mainly because learning can be a long -yet funny- haul. Don’t forget that musicians start by listening, and that outputs are tightly linked to inputs in the language learning process. Being astute and attentive to small details will for sure work in your favour. And after reading about all these cross-over skills, why don’t you start practising now?
Written by Ana Jiménez Morente
Content Editor. Communication Trainee, DG TRAD – Terminology Coordination Unit
- Milovanov and Tervaniemi. 2011. The Interplay between Musical and Linguistic Aptitudes: A Review. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3221315/ [Accessed 04 November 2016].
- Spanish Obsessed. 2016. 8 reasons why learning Spanish is like learning an instrument. Available at: https://spanishobsessed.com/blog/musical-comparisons/. [Accessed 04 November 2016].
- Spirit Science. 2016. The Intriguing Connection Between Learning A Language & Playing An Instrument. Available at: http://thespiritscience.net/2016/07/15/the-intriguing-connection-between-learning-a-language-playing-an-instrument/. [Accessed 04 November 2016]
- Stanford University. 2016. Musical training helps language processing, studies show. Available at: http://news.stanford.edu/news/2005/november16/music-111605.html. [Accessed 07 November 2016].
- The Guardian. 2016. Are musicians better language learners? | Education | The Guardian. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/education/2014/feb/27/musicians-better-language-learners. [Accessed 08 November 2016].
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